You know from my posts (here, here, and here) on recent reading choices — Orlando Figes’ The Crimean War, Colin Thubron’s Shadow of the Silk Road, and Thomas de Waal’s The Caucasus — that I have been obsessed over the last two months with the Black Sea and Central Asia. What a wonderful coincidence, then, that I received a travel brochure two weeks ago for a journey there.
As a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I regularly receive brochures for the trips they host in their Travel with the Met program. I used to throw them out. In recent years, when one comes, I take a moment to look through the itinerary to get trip ideas, after which I check the unimaginably high price and toss it. Mediterranean cruises are a staple. The appeal is that the ships are small and you are accompanied by an art expert, often on the museum staff, who educates you as you travel.
Here’s a typical trip, one that just took place: Undiscovered Cities of Art: Genoa, Bologna & Ravenna. It doesn’t take too much work to put together your own trip to Genoa, Bologna, and Ravenna, but you won’t get to travel with famed Met lecturer Olivier Bernier. Click on the link for the pdf brochure and you’ll find that it’s a pretty attractive package. You’ll also find that it cost $8650 per person for double occupancy, including eight nights at hotels, daily breakfast, four lunches, four dinners, the lectures, secreted sightseeing, entrance fees, airport and hotel transfers, taxes and gratuities. You also needed to pay to get to Milan and leave from Venice. If you’re willing to forgo Olivier, you might just be able to do better. And I feel pretty good about my ability to plan a trip to Italy.
But then there’s this, the new offering, which I’m sorely tempted to sign up for: The Silk Road & Southern Caucasus aboard the Golden Eagle. (The photo at the top of the post is from the webpage.) It’s a dream come true.
There’s no link to a pdf file for the brochure. I’ll lay out the itinerary. You depart from New York on Wednesday, October 24, fly overnight to London, fly overnight the next night to Almaty, Kazakhstan, arriving on Friday, October 26, in Almaty, where you board the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, your residence for the trip. From there:
Saturday, October 27: Almaty, Kazakhstan
Sunday, October 28: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Monday, October 29: Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Tuesday, October 30: Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Wednesday, October 31: Khiva, Uzbekistan
Thursday, November 1: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Friday, November 2: Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan; Baku, Azerbaijan
Saturday, November 3: Baku, Azerbaijan
Sunday, November 4: Tbilisi, Georgia
Monday, November 5: Borjomi/Kutaisi, Georgia
Tuesday, November 6: Gori/Uplistsikhe/Mtskheta, Georgia
Wednesday, November 7: Yerevan, Armenia
Thursday, November 8: Yerevan–>London–>New York
Sign me up! Please!
Um, the thing is, I actually have a job, and this is not good timing. Plus, there’s the price. How much? Well, you have to choose between Gold Class and Silver Class on the train. Both feature “en-suite bathrooms.” You get to “dine on traditional Russian specialties and savor fine wines in the beautifully appointed restaurant car.” And in case you aren’t aware, Georgia is famous for its wine. It may in fact be the source of the first cultivated grapevines, over 8000 years ago.
That price? Right. Well, for Gold Class, it’ll cost $19,195 per person double occupancy; for Silver Class, $15,395. I guess I could survive in Silver. All meals are included, wine at lunch and dinner, the lectures, escorted sightseeing, and so on. Splurge on Gold and you get drinks from the standard bar list in the bar car. Extra, of course, is the airfare.
I know. Crazy. But it’s my dream trip. Why quibble? And unlike putting together a swing through a few Italian cities, I don’t think I could pull this one off on my own.
I haven’t even mentioned our travel companion yet. That would be Joan Aruz, the Met’s Curator in Charge of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. With her help, “history will come to life as we walk in 2,500 year-old cities and see extraordinary architecture and artifacts left by generations of civilizations.”
Gail, shall we go?